The Penguins completed a four-game winning streak on the road, giving the team five wins in five tries outside the Pittsburgh city limits, the most consecutive wins away from home to begin a campaign in franchise history.
A 6-1 start to the season, the team’s best start since 1994-95 (7-0), has come as a result of contributions from the entire lineup and not just the players who comprise the Penguins’ highly-skilled top lines. Veterans Mike Rupp, Craig Adams
and Eric Godard, fourth-liners who offer grit, toughness and energy, were instrumental in Pittsburgh going four-for-four on the road trip.
“That is part of the role…we want to go out there and have good shifts and build on that from shift-to-shift,” described Godard of the expectation’s for his line. “That’s something the whole team talks about so we just want to go out there and help out.”
As a unit, they came out flying in first periods of games on the recent trip, helping the Penguins establish momentum and a forecheck in the opposition’s end.
Head coach Dan Bylsma rewarded his fourth line on several instances throughout the trip, something he said he intends to do often during the regular season to keep all his players on their toes and properly motivated over the course of a grinding 82-game schedule.
“I think going into the game as a player, if you know you are going to play a certain amount of time, there is not as much motivation. If you know you are going to get a little more, or there’s a chance you are going to get a little less, there’s an attention to bring to your game that I think you need on the bench.
“Sometimes it is dictated by what we need in that particular game. Sometimes it is dictated by a player playing particularly well and grabbing more ice time for themselves and getting a chance to get slotted up on (other) lines.”
During the Penguins’ 5-2 victory last Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Godard was rewarded for, among other things, answering the bell 2:19 into the game when Toronto tough-guy Colton Orr offered up a challenge to drop the gloves, cycling the puck effectively quite a few times with Adams and Rupp and playing with positive aggression while the Maple Leafs’ enforcers constantly took bad penalties for which the Penguins made them pay.
Godard’s reward was a second-period shift next to Sidney Crosby
and Adams where the trio nearly capitalized on a good scoring chance created by Godard’s work along the boards, and then by spending 1:49 of the Penguins’ final power-play opportunity in front of the Leafs’ net with Crosby and Evgeni Malkin
“It’s always fun to get out there with those guys,” Godard said in the Penguins’ dressing room after practice Friday. “You go to the front (of the net) and put your stick on the ice. It was good to be out there with them.”
Two nights later against the Ottawa Senators, Godard thought he was going to pick up his first goal of the year as the puck bounced to his stick right on the doorstep of Pascal Leclaire’s crease.
“I thought (I had one), but then Matt Cooke
had to come stick his big butt in there and knock me over. I thought I was going to get one.”
A member of the fourth line who did score a goal during the trip was Rupp. His beautiful backhand into the top shelf behind Cam Ward got the Penguins going against Carolina on Wednesday night.
“Geno made a heck of a play along the boards to spring me and Feds (Ruslan Fedotenko) on a two-on-one,” Rupp said of the play that sprung him into the Carolina zone. “I just took what I was given. The goalie was cheating over and the defense went over to Feds for the backdoor so I had an opportunity to put it upstairs.
“It feels good to contribute offensively. You are always looking for ways to contribute but it was a nice way to get the first one.”
Rupp’s coach was equally pleased with the big winger’s contribution.
“I thought he had a particularly strong game so he got the opportunity to play up with Geno and Fedotenko on four or five separate occasions,” Bylsma explained to reporters. “He is a physical presence who is a hard worker in the corners. That’s the kind of presence from time-to-time you want to give a line with Evgeni Malkin
Rupp enjoyed the increased ice time, especially seeing time with last season’s Art Ross Trophy winner.
“It is always good when (the guys on) the fourth-line get to play some shifts with different guys. Dan (Bylsma) seems like he is willing to throw guys around with whoever is working hard. When you get out there with a guy like Geno, the game is a little easier.”
Adams, who notched a couple big goals during the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs, was a key contributor to a penalty-killing unit which killed off the final 11 penalties taken by the Penguins during the trip. He also had his best statistical night in the regular season as Penguin when he recorded two assists and a plus-3 rating against the Senators.
When asked to talk about his game against the Senators, Adams was more into giving credit to the guys around him.
“On TK’s goal, it was kind of an individual effort coming down the wing. The first one was kind of a lucky bounce – they weren’t beauties, but I’ll take them for sure.”
Beautiful or not, maybe a bounce or two here and there, everything counts the same and the Penguins are off to an impressive 6-1 start. The productive contributions from Rupp, Adams and Godard are a major factor. Those three and the rest of the Penguins look to maintain their success during this stretch of home games beginning with Saturday’s tilt with Tampa Bay.